The Berzin Archives

The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

Switch to the Text Version of this page. Jump to main navigation.

Commentary on An Aspiration Prayer for the Definitive Meaning of Mahamudra

(Nges-don phyag-rgya chen-po'i smon-lam)
of the Third Karmapa Rangjung-dorjey
(Kar-ma Rang-byung rdo-rje) (1284 – 1340)
by Beru Khyentse Rinpoche

translated by Alexander Berzin, January 1978
revised August 2003 and June 2006

1 Obtaining the Necessities for Practice

[With Beru Khyentse Rinpoche’s commentary in black script and supplements to that by Alexander Berzin in violet between square brackets.]

Homage

Homage to my Gurus.

The author, the Third Karmapa, was an extremely learned master who wrote many profound texts that became the core of the Karma Kagyu teachings. Rangjung-dorjey (Self-arisen Vajra) was his given monastic name because of the lines of a naturally formed dorjey on each of his palms.

He starts by paying homage to his Gurus. It is important to begin this way because Gurus are the essential sources of all realizations. Their qualities are equal to those of the Buddha. We could even say that they are kinder than all the Buddhas are, because they teach us in person. Moreover, their bodies embody the three sources of safe direction (the three refuges). Their physical bodies are the Sangha; their speech is the Dharma; and their minds are the Buddha. The literal meaning of the word Lama is “someone who cannot be surpassed.”

The text is divided into two sections:

  1. general prayers,

  2. specific prayers.

The general prayers are divided into two sections:

  1. general prayer that encompasses all the specific prayers,

  2. general prayer of dedication.

General Prayer that Encompasses All the Specific Prayers

Verse 1 is a general prayer that encompasses all the specific prayers made in the rest of the text.

(1) Gurus, yidams, and mandala figures,
Triumphant Ones in the ten directions and three times,
With your spiritual offspring,
   please regard me with affection.
Inspire me that my prayers come true just as I’ve made them.

“Yidams” are Buddha-figures used in meditation. They are emanations of a Buddha’s Dharmakaya (Wisdom Body) – the omniscient mind of a Buddha – and may be in peaceful or forceful (wrathful) forms. Without leaving the state of voidness (emptiness), which is to say the Dharmakaya as omniscient awareness of the inseparable two truths, Buddhas manifest as yidams to benefit beings with limited minds (limited beings, sentient beings). Thus, in their essential natures (ngo-bo), yidams are Buddhas.

[Yidams live in mandalas, palaces that contain other secondary figures that are also emanations of a Buddha’s Dharmakaya. The “spiritual offspring” of the Triumphant Buddhas are the bodhisattvas.]

General Prayer of Dedication

Verse 2 is a general dedication prayer made with bodhichitta.

(2) May the stream of water from the mass
   of constructive actions,
Not muddied with respect to the three circles,
Born from the snow mountain of pure thoughts and actions
   of myself and all countless beings,
Flow into the ocean of a Triumphant's Four Bodies.

Pure thoughts and actions of myself and all countless beings refer to the thoughts and actions of ourselves and others, as well as concerning ourselves and others.

“Pure thoughts” are those with a pure motivation or intention, not mixed with any of the three poisonous emotions: longing desire (attachment), anger, or naivety. “Pure actions” characterize enlightenment-building actions (bodhisattva conduct), which are not muddied with respect to the three circles. “The three circles” are an agent, an action, and an object toward whom or toward which an action is done. [None of the three has true existence, non-true existence, both or neither. They are naturally not muddied by any of these four impossible extreme modes of existence. In other words,] their mode of existence is a [nondenumerable (rnam-grangs ma-yin-pa)] voidness that is beyond all words and concepts [of the impossible four modes].

[See: Affirmations, Negations, and Denumerable and Nondenumerable Ultimate Phenomena.]

Pure action is done with the realization of the voidness of the three circles [and thus is not muddied by unawareness regarding how the three circles exist]. This also means with the realization that [actions nevertheless occur and produce results based on] all three circles existing like an illusion.

Implicitly, the verse indicates that the snow mountain itself is not muddied with respect to the three circles. [We can understand the snow mountain as a metaphor for mind-itself (sems-nyid), which is a synonym for the clear light subtlest level of awareness, also called “normal awareness” (tha-mal-gyi shes-pa, normal mind, ordinary mind) in the Karma Kagyu tradition. It is naturally pure, like a snow mountain.] It [the mind-itself, by nature,] is not muddied or defiled by impure or false conceptual cognitions concerning the three circles [or by impure thoughts of desire, anger, or naivety.

Mind-itself is not muddied even by correct conceptual cognitions. To understand this, we need to understand the difference between false and correct conceptual cognition.

False conceptual cognitions fabricate and project appearances of true existence (bden-snang). Simultaneously, they grasp for true existence (bden-‘dzin), which means they incorrectly take these false appearances to be true. In simple words, they believe that the impossible way of existing that they make appear is how things actually exist.

According to the assertion shared in common by the Kagyu, Nyingma, and Sakya schools, nonconceptual cognition does not make appearances of or grasp for true existence. This applies to sensory cognition, an arya’s yogic cognition of voidness, mind-itself, and the omniscient mind of a Buddha (Dharmakaya). According to the uncommon Karma Kagyu assertion not shared by the other schools, the first moment of conceptual cognition also does not make appearances of true existence or grasp at them. Only from the second moment onward, is conceptual cognition false and impure. This is one of the reasons that Karma Kagyu asserts that conceptual thought is, in essential nature, Dharmakaya. This statement is in reference to the first moment of conceptual cognition.

According to the Kagyu, Nyingma, and Sakya schools, sensory nonconceptual cognition cognizes only moments of sensibilia, such as moments of colored shapes. Conceptual cognition imputes on them conventional objects of experience (tha-snyad spyod-yul), in other words commonsense objects (‘jig-rten-la grags-pa) such as “an orange,” which endure over time and extend over the sensibilia of several senses – sights, smells, tastes, and physical sensations. In differentiating the first moment of conceptual cognition from the subsequent moments, and in ascribing appearance-making and grasping for the true existence of commonsense objects – independent of mental labeling or imputation – only to subsequent moments, Karma Kagyu avoids the danger of what the Gelug tradition calls “over-refuting the object to be refuted.” It avoids the danger of denying the conventional existence of commonsense objects, which are like an illusion.

This unique Karma Kagyu assertion, unshared with other traditions, applies not only to commonsense objects such as an orange, but also to the commonsense objects known as the three circles of an action. For example, although sensory nonconceptual cognition can only perceive one moment of an action at a time and only the sensibilia of it through one sense; nevertheless, there is a conventionally existent action as a commonsense object, imputed by the first moment of conceptual cognition. That first moment is accurate or correct conceptual cognition. Only the subsequent moments of conceptual cognition are false cognitions.

In short, the snow mountain of mind-itself, Dharmakaya, is not muddied either by first-moment correct conceptual cognitions of commonsense objects such as agents, actions, and objects, or by subsequent-moment false conceptual cognitions of these three circles as truly existent.]

[See: Fine Analysis of Objects of Cognition: Non-Gelug Presentation.]

Because the snow mountain itself is naturally not muddied by false conceptual cognition, the stream of water born from the snow mountain – in other words, the stream that naturally flows from mind-itself – is also naturally not muddied. The stream of clear water refers to constructive actions. [“Thoughts” are actions of mind; “actions” refer to the actions of body and speech.] We need to stop muddying them with [the three poisonous emotions or] false conceptual cognitions of the three circles.

The mass of constructive actions refers to the network of positive force (collection of merit) that builds up from constructive actions. May the unmuddied stream of them flow into the ocean of a Triumphant's Four Bodies is a prayer for our network of positive force to act as a cause for achieving enlightenment. Thus, the second verse is a dedication prayer of bodhichitta. It is a dedication of all positive force (merit) to our attainment of enlightenment to benefit everyone.

[There are many presentations of the four Enlightening Bodies of a Buddha. The most general one is that a Nirmanakaya (Emanation Body) is a network of physical bodies that teach ordinary beings, while a Sambhogakaya (Body of Full Use) is a network of subtle physical bodies that teach highly realized arya bodhisattvas. A Dharmakaya or Jnana-dharmakaya (Deep Awareness Body Encompassing Everything, Wisdom Body) is the omniscient mind of a Buddha, and a Svabhavakaya (Nature Body) is the inseparability of the other Three Bodies. In other words, a Svabhavakaya is the inseparable two truths (conventional appearances and their voidness) omnisciently known by a Dharmakaya.]

Next are specific prayers, divided into five sections: prayers to

  1. obtain a proper basis for practice,

  2. develop discriminating awareness,

  3. meet pure teachings on the basis, path, and result,

  4. not be confused about the practice of the path,

  5. manifest the result.

Prayers to obtain a proper basis for practice are divided into two sections: prayers to

  1. obtain the general circumstances conducive for practice,

  2. obtain the special circumstances conducive for practice.

Prayer to Obtain the General Circumstances Conducive for Practice

Verse 3 is a prayer to obtain the general circumstances that constitute a proper basis conducive for Dharma practice.

(3) In each and every lifetime until I attain that,
May even the sound of (the words) negativity and suffering
Never resound and may I come to enjoy
The glories of an ocean of bliss and virtue.

This is a prayer that in all our rebirths, until we achieve enlightenment, may we act only constructively, so that we continually strengthen and expand our networks of positive force. To do that, we need to curb our three poisonous emotions, as well as jealousy and pride. By stopping their influence on our behavior, we will naturally refrain from committing the ten destructive actions of body, speech, and mind that build up “negativity,” meaning negative force (sdig-pa, negative potential, “sin”), and which result in “suffering.”

[The three destructive actions of body are killing, stealing, and indulging in inappropriate sexual behavior. The four destructive actions of speech are lying, speaking divisively, using harsh language, and idly chattering. The three destructive actions of mind are thinking with covetous thoughts, thinking with malice, and distorted antagonistic thinking.]

Through refraining from destructive actions, we attain better rebirths, specifically precious human ones. With them as our basis, we can come to enjoy the glories of an ocean of bliss and virtue, namely with our attainments of liberation and enlightenment.

Prayer to Obtain the Special Circumstances Conducive for Practice

Verse 4 is a prayer to obtain the special circumstances conducive for practice.

(4) Having obtained a supreme (human life)
   with respites
and enrichments,
Endowed with belief in facts, joyful perseverance,
   and discrimination,
May I rely on an excellent spiritual master
And receive the essence of his guideline instructions.
Practicing accordingly, without interference,
May I enjoy the pure Dharma in all my lives.

The most favorable or supreme rebirth state is with a precious human life endowed with respites and enrichments. “Respites” are from the eight nonhuman and human situations with no leisure to practice the Dharma; “enrichments” are with the ten personal and social situations that enable Dharma practice.

[From among the eight situations with no leisure to practice the Dharma, from which we have a temporary respite (the eight freedoms or liberties), the four nonhuman situations are rebirth as (1) a trapped being in a joyless realm (hell-creature), (2) a desperately clutching ghost (hungry ghost), (3) a creeping creature (animal), or (4) a long-lived divine being (god). The four human situations of no leisure are rebirth as (5) a barbarian in a savage border region, (6) in a land where the Dharma is unavailable, (7) with severe learning disabilities, or (8) instinctively holding a distorted outlook on life, denying what is true.

From among the ten enriching situations that enable Dharma practice (the ten endowments), the five personal situations are rebirth as (1) a human, (2) in a central Buddhist region, (3) with complete faculties, (4) not still experiencing the repercussions from having committed the most extreme destructive actions, and (5) with instinctive belief in what is true. The five social situations that enable Dharma practice are rebirth (6) where and when a Buddha has come, (7) has taught the Dharma, and (8) the Dharma is still maintained, (9) with a monastic community following the Buddha’s example, and (10) with others compassionately supporting the monastic community.]

Moreover, to practice fully, we need a precious human life endowed with qualities that are even more special: belief in facts (dad-pa, faith), joyful perseverance, and discrimination (shes-rab, discriminating awareness, wisdom).

There are three types of belief in facts. First comes belief in a fact based on reason (yid-ches-kyi dad-pa), for example belief in the fact of having Buddha-nature. From that, comes clearheaded belief in a fact (dang-ba’i dad-pa). [It clears the mind of disturbing emotions and attitudes about what is true. Once our minds are cleared of doubts and so on,] we can then develop belief in a fact with an aspiration (mngon-‘dod-kyi dad-pa) – namely, belief in our ability to realize our Buddha-natures and that we shall realize them.

Another way of enumerating the three is first comes belief in a fact with an aspiration – for example, with bodhichitta, the belief that we can and we will become Buddhas. Based on that, comes clearheaded belief in a fact, namely that the practice of Dharma will bring us to that state. [The more we practice, the more we clear our minds of disturbing emotions and attitudes. With our minds more clear,] we gain belief in facts based on reason, for example in the truth of the laws of behavioral cause and effect. That brings us to the development of joyful perseverance and discriminating awareness. Based on reason, we are confident that developing and practicing them will bring us enlightenment.

Having attained these four qualities [a precious human rebirth, belief in fact, joyful perseverance, and discriminating awareness], we need to rely on an excellent spiritual master. Such a spiritual master is one who is properly qualified and whom we choose and rely on in a healthy manner according to the criteria established in Ashvaghosha’s Fifty Stanzas on the Guru (Bla-ma lnga-bcu-pa, Skt. Gurupanchashika). Then, we need to receive the essence of our Guru’s guideline instructions (gdams-ngag), given in conformity with the capacity and level of each disciple. Having received them, we need to practice accordingly, by following the instructions. This is essential.

Moreover, we need to be able to practice without interference. Two types of interference can hinder our practice. One is external, coming from the four elements, for example floods, droughts, and famines. The second is internal, coming, for instance, from sickness or disturbing emotions and attitudes. To avoid all interference, we meditate on yidams, recite mantras, perform protector practices, and do meditation retreats.

The prayer ends with the aspiration to enjoy the pure Dharma in all our lives. This means to be able to practice the pure Dharma, in the manner outlined by the previous lines of the verse, in all our lifetimes until our attainment of enlightenment.

Prayer to Develop Discriminating Awareness

Of the various qualities of a precious human rebirth, discriminating awareness is the factor that brings us directly to the realization of mahamudra. Therefore, verse 5 is a prayer to develop discriminating awareness:

(5) Listening to scriptures and reasoning frees us
    from the obscurations of not knowing.
Thinking about the quintessence teachings destroys
   the darkness of doubts.
The light arising from meditation makes clear
   the abiding nature of reality, just as it is.
May the illumination of my three wisdoms ever expand.

In Jewel Ornament of Liberation (Thar-pa rin-po-che’i rgyan), Gampopa outlined two types of discriminating awareness or wisdom: the ordinary discriminating awareness that comprehends worldly topics – such as medicine and the arts and sciences – and the extraordinary discriminating awareness that comprehends Dharma topics. Dharma topics refer to the teachings gathered in The Three Baskets, The Tripitaka – namely, the teachings of vinaya (rules of discipline), sutra (themes of practice), and abhidharma (special topics of knowledge). Discriminating awareness of the Dharma may be at the lesser level of the shravakas (listeners) or pratyekabuddhas (self-realizers), or at the greater level of the bodhisattvas. In either case, the discriminating awareness of the Dharma is divided into that which arises

  1. from listening to the teachings,
  2. from pondering or thinking about their meaning,
  3. from meditating on them.

Here, the verse refers to these three types of discriminating awareness in the case of a bodhisattva.

Listening to scriptures and reasoning refers to listening to or reading and studying (a) teachings from the Buddhist scriptures and (b) teachings on lines of reasoning or logic. Examples of scriptures are the abhidharma texts, the texts of the great mahasiddhas, and the commentaries written by the great Indian and Tibetan learned masters. An example of a line of reasoning is “a vase is a nonstatic (impermanent) phenomenon because it is affected by causes and conditions.” To gain the discriminating awareness that ascertains the actual nature of phenomena we must rely on logical reasoning, particularly as outlined by the great Indian masters Dignaga and Dharmakirti. Listening also refers to listening to teachings from our personal Gurus.

The discriminating awareness that arises from listening frees us from the obscurations of not knowing (mi-shes sgrib). “The obscurations of not knowing” may refer to not knowing the Dharma in general or specifically to not knowing the two sets of obscurations. The two sets are the emotional obscurations (nyon-sgrib) and the cognitive obscurations (shes-sgrib). The former set are the disturbing emotions and attitudes, plus their tendencies. These obscurations prevent liberation. The latter set are obscurations regarding all knowables and which prevent omniscience. If we have not listened to teachings about what the two sets of obscurations are and about the methods for overcoming them, we will be unable to free ourselves from them. The two sets of obscurations themselves are also “obscurations of not knowing.” [The former set is the obscurations of not knowing or unawareness (ma-rig-pa, ignorance) of how we exist, while the latter is unawareness of how all phenomena exist.]

The discriminating awareness that arises from listening is not enough. We also need the discriminating awareness that comes from thinking about the quintessence teachings (man-ngag), from the great masters of the past and the present, about their meaning. Qunitessence teachings reveal the pith or deep meanings of the scriptures. Thinking about or pondering these ieachings destroys the darkness of doubts we may have about what the teachings actually mean.

For example, certain [sutra] texts are of definitive meaning (nges-don): they can be taken literally. Others are of interpretable meaning (drang-don): they are not to be taken literally, but need interpretation. [In anuttarayoga tantra texts, specific words or phrases have both interpretable and definitive meanings.] For instance, The Guhyasamaja Tantra (gSang-ba ‘dus-pa) states, “You must take life.” According to the quintessence teachings, this line is not to be taken literally to mean we must kill other limited beings. It needs interpretation: we need to take the life of the darkness of ignorance [and the subtle energy-winds that it rides on.]

In addition, if we try to meditate to gain shamatha (zhi-gnas, a stilled and settle state of mind, calm abiding), we will never make progress if we have doubts about how to meditate. [We also need to clear away doubts about the item on which we are supposed to focus or the state of mind in which we are supposed to rest.] We need to think about the meanings of the quintessence teachings on shamatha meditation until we understand them correctly and are free of doubts.

The discriminating awareness that arises from thinking is also not enough. We need the discriminating awareness that arises from meditating. Through meditating, we integrate the teachings so that we realize them fully. For example, from meditating on and achieving shamatha, the light arising from meditation makes clear the abiding nature of reality, just as it is. This means that, with the attainment of shamatha, our single-pointed concentration with and on the clarity of this state reveals and illuminates mahamudra, the actual abiding nature of reality. [In other words, with shamatha, we gain an exceptionally clear mind that is both the object of focus in mahamudra meditation and the mind that does the focusing.]

Thus, since all three types of discriminating awareness are necessary in order for the realization of mahamudra, the abiding nature of reality, to dawn, we pray here that the illumination of my three wisdoms ever expand.

Prayer to Meet Pure Teachings on the Basis, Path, and Result

With the three types of discriminating awareness, we can realize the basis, pathway, and resultant mahamudras. Thus, verse 6 is a prayer to meet with pure, correct teachings on the three:

(6) May I meet the unmistaken, undeviating Dharma, which
Takes the two truths as the main points of the basis;
   parted from the extremes of eternalism and nihilism,
Takes the two networks as the supreme path,
   parted from interpolating or repudiating anything;
And fulfills the two aims as the attainment of the result,
   parted from the extremes of compulsive samsara
   and tranquil nirvana.

May I meet with the unmistaken, undeviating Dharma with respect to the basis, pathway and resultant mahamudras is a prayer to listen to, think about, and meditate on the correct teachings that do not deviate to either of two extremes with respect to each of the three. First, we need to identify correctly the basis, path, and result.

There are two types of basis mahamudras: natural and causal. The natural basis mahamudra refers to the abiding nature of reality as our Buddha-nature. It is our mind-itself, normal awareness, which pervades all appearances that manifest in all rebirth states. [Normal awareness is inseparable voidness and appearance, with the voidness that is inseparable from appearance being itself inseparable voidness and awareness.] The natural basis is what allows us to practice the path. If Buddha-nature were not within each of us, practicing the path and attaining enlightenment as its result would be impossible. It is a primordial state (gnyug-ma), meaning that it has no beginning and that is the ultimate phenomenon (don-dam), meaning that it is the deepest level. If we do not realize that this innate state within each of us is our basis to practice the path, we cannot use it to realize voidness.

Mind and body are inseparable. [“Inseparable” (dbyer-med) means that if one is the case or is present, so is the other.] Normal awareness abides in the body [and specifically in the subtlest body, meaning the subtlest energy-wind, like a supported limited being (brten) in the environment that supports it (rten)]. The subtlest body gives rise to the subtle energy-channels, subtle energy-winds, and subtle creative energy-drops (rtsa-rlung-thig-le). Yoga practice [on the complete stage (rdzogs-rim) of anuttarayoga tantra] is based on this subtle energy-system as the causal basis. Through realization of the causal basis mahamudra, we realize inseparable voidness and bliss.

If we do not realize our natural and causal basis mahamudras, it does not mean that we do not have them, for in fact these bases abide in each of us. When we fully realize these bases, we realize the abiding state that has double purity (dag-pa gnyis-ldan): the natural purity that was always the case and the purity attained from parting the bases from the two sets of obscurations that prevented us from realizing them.

The two truths as the main points of the basis refer to the two basis mahamudras. Normal awareness, as the natural basis, is deepest truth (don-dam bden-pa, ultimate truth) [inseparable voidness and appearance]. The subtle body, as the causal basis, is superficial truth (kun-rdzob bden-pa, conventional truth, relative truth, apparent truth) [appearances themselves, apparent truth]. The teachings on these two truths need to be parted from the extremes of eternalism and nihilism.

The extreme of eternalism is the error of taking appearances and grasping at them as being eternal. “Eternal,” here, means appearances [of the subtle and gross bodies and of all appearances in general] truly existing under their own power, independently of mind. Understanding deepest truth keeps us from falling to this extreme.

The extreme of nihilism is the error of taking deepest truth voidness as an absolute nullification that nullifies everything. Understanding superficial truth keeps us from falling to this extreme. [Normal awareness is a voidness in the sense that it is an “other-voidness” (gzhan-stong), devoid of grosser levels of mind, and in the sense that it and its manner of existence are beyond all words and concepts. It is not an absolute nullification (med-dgag, nonimplicative negation phenomenon, nonaffirming negation); it is not merely an absence. Deepest truth normal awareness is inseparable from the appearances that it continually and automatically gives rise to.]

This is Madhyamaka, the Middle Way. When we understand the two truths properly, we realize the unified pair (zung-‘jug, Skt. yuganaddha, “unity”): voidness and appearance.

[See: Relationships between Two Objects in Anuttarayoga Tantra.]

This enables us to understand correctly the main points or meaning of the two basis mahamudras. Cultivation of the path and attainment of the result follow from the three types of discriminating awareness that arise from listening to, thinking about, and meditating on this “unmistaken, undeviating Dharma.”

We need great care here. Conventional appearances such as those of the preta (clutching ghost, hungry ghost) realm exist conventionally. From the viewpoint of deepest truth, they are “mind-only.” This statement is not the same as the assertion of the Chittamatra (Mind-Only) School.

[According to the Chittamatra theories, a consciousness and the appearances of phenomena that that consciousness cognizes come from the same karmic tendency (sa-bon, seed) on the all-encompassing foundation consciousness (kun-gzhi rnam-shes, Skt. alayavijnana). It is not that consciousness comes from some internal source and that appearances are external and come from some separate external source. In this sense, consciousness and the objects it cognizes are nondual (gnyis-med). There are no such things as external phenomena (phyi-don).

In contrast to this, when Madhyamaka asserts no external phenomena and that everything is mind-only, the meaning is that there are no phenomena created by an external omnipotent creator. Madhyamaka, however, does not refute that material phenomena come from their material causes.

Dualistic consciousness and the objects it cognizes are known in Chittamatra as “totally conceptional phenomena” (kun-brtags): they are completely imaginary and have no true existence. The minds that cognize or experience these dualistic appearances are known as “dependent phenomena” (gzhan-dbang, other-powered phenomena). They project and cognize these false appearances dependent on the power of karmic tendencies and unawareness, and thus are known as “unpurified (ma-dag) dependent phenomena.” They are not yet purified of karmic tendencies and the unawareness that both plants and activates these tendencies. In essence, however, these unpurified minds are minds that are devoid of projecting and cognizing these totally conceptional phenomena. These voidnesses – the essence of unpurified minds – are thoroughly established phenomena (yongs-grub). They are “other-voidnesses” in that they are dependent phenomena’s being devoid of something other than themselves – namely, they are devoid of totally conceptional phenomena.

These thoroughly established other-voidnesses are truly existent levels of mind. When all unawareness has been removed from unpurified dependent minds, the unpurified minds become “purified dependent phenomena.” Purified dependent minds, then, are equivalent to thoroughly established phenomena and they too have true existence. This is the coarse presentation of the Chittamatra tenet system.

According to the subtle level of Chittamatra theories, the totally conceptional phenomena are conceptual minds, from their second moment onwards, and the appearances of truly existent external conventional commonsense objects that they cognize. The appearances that these conceptual minds cognize are universals or categories (spyi) – such as the universal or category “table” – that they impute or project onto moments of sensibilia. Such minds and their objects are not truly existent.

Unpurified dependent phenomena are nonconceptual sensory and mental consciousnesses and the first moment of conceptual minds, as well as the appearances of external sensibilia and commonsense objects – but not ones that are truly existent as “this” or “that” – that they project and cognize dependent on the power of karmic tendencies and unawareness. Purified dependent phenomena are the nonconceptual sensory and mental consciousnesses and the first moment of conceptual minds, as well as the appearances of nonexternal sensibilia and commonsense objects that they project and cognize when they are no longer dependent on the power of karmic tendencies and unawareness. These are the pure appearances of Buddha-lands. Purified dependent phenomena are dependent on the power of networks of positive force and deep awareness.

The thoroughly established phenomena are alayavijnanas themselves, as subtle continuities of consciousness that are devoid of all dependent phenomena. In this subtle presentation as well, the thoroughly established phenomena are other-voidnesses, and, as with the coarse Chittamatra presentation, they too have true existence.

In the Chittamatra system, then, superficial truths refers to totally conceptional and dependent phenomena, which lack true existence, while deepest truths are the thoroughly established phenomena, which have true existence. In Madhyamaka, normal mind is beyond all extremes of true existence, non-true existence, both, or neither.]

We need great intelligence to understand properly the meaning of the affirmation that everything is mind-only. [Everything is mind-only in the sense that deepest truth voidness is normal awareness – inseparable voidness and appearances, with voidness itself being inseparable voidness and awareness. This is not an affirmation phenomenon (sgrub-pa), as in the dichotomy affirmation phenomena and negation phenomena (dgag-pa). Voidness, here, is beyond such words and concepts as affirmation phenomena, such as true existence (it is “this”), and negation phenomena, such as non-true existence (it is “not this”). Superficial truths are mind’s appearances themselves, in all realms of existence and rebirth states, based on subtlest body inseparable from normal awareness (normal mind). ] Thus, to be capable of correctly understanding the meaning of the two truths, we need to develop the discriminating awareness that arises from listening to, thinking about, and meditating on pathway mahamudra.

Pathway mahamudra takes the two networks as the supreme path, parted from (the two extremes) of interpolating or repudiating anything. In other words, building up and strengthening our two enlightenment-building networks (collections) of positive force (bsod-nams, merit) and deep awareness (ye-shes, wisdom), dedicated with bodhichitta, is the pathway of practice that enables us to realize basis and resultant mahamudras. This is the path of method and wisdom.

The extreme of interpolation (sgro-‘dogs) refers to adding or projecting something that is not present. An example would be taking a scarecrow in a field to be a man, or a striped rope to be a snake. [Here, interpolation adds to deepest truth what is not the case – namely any of the four impossible extreme modes of existence: true existence, non-true existence, both, or neither. Deepest truth is beyond all words and concepts of these four extremes.] Building up and strengthening our networks of deep awareness [as the wisdom side] enables us to avoid the extreme of such interpolation.

The extreme of repudiation (skur-‘debs) refers to taking away or denying what is present [Here, repudiation denies the superficial truth of appearances.] Acting constructively toward and with appearances, to build up and strengthen our networks of positive force, enables us to avoid the extreme of such repudiation. Thus, the two extremes of interpolation or repudiation are eliminated by “the supreme path,” which is a combination of method and wisdom. In short, we need to develop the discriminating awareness that arises from listening to, thinking about, and meditating on the supreme pathway mahamudra that avoids the extremes of projecting and denying.

As the enlightenment-building networks of our positive force and deep awareness, built up and strengthened with this discriminating awareness, grow in scope and strength, the clarity of our minds grows in intensity. In other words, positive force, deep awareness, and the discriminating awareness to avoid projecting or denying intensify the clarity of our minds. The more intense the clarity of our minds, the more efficient consciousness we have for realizing mahamudra and the more prominent object we have on which to realize it.

Resultant mahamudra is the attainment of enlightenment, with the three Buddha-bodies [Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Dharmakaya (which also includes Svabhavakaya).] This attainment fulfills the two aims, parted from the extremes of compulsive samsara and tranquil nirvana.

The attainment of a Dharmakaya, a Buddha’s omniscient awareness of the inseparable two truths, avoids the extreme of compulsive samsara (srid-mtha’) – rebirth in any of the three realms of samsara. The three samsaric realms are the realms of desirable objects (desire realm), ethereal forms (form realm), and formless beings (formless realm). Rebirth in any of the three entails only suffering. With the attainment of a Dharmakaya, our omniscient awareness of the inseparable two truths parts us from this extreme and thus we fulfill our own aims.

The attainment of a Nirmanakaya and a Sambhogakaya, with which we appear throughout the expanse of space, avoids the extreme of remaining in the tranquil peace of nirvana (zhi-mtha’). Helping others with these appearances fulfills the aims of others. Thus, with the attainment of the three Buddha-bodies, we fulfill the two aims – those of ourselves and those of others.